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Safeguard Personnel On An Industrial Work Platform With Protective Guarding, Part 1

Industrial Work Platform

With the addition of an industrial work platform, an operation can gain valuable square footage without expanding the building’s footprint. However, associates accessing and working on these elevated areas are at an increased risk of injury from falls. Therefore, protective guarding is essential. This includes around the perimeter of the structure and around stairways or ladders used to access higher levels. That’s what this — the first of two posts covering how to safeguard personnel on an industrial work platform with protective guarding — examines.

Standards Define Requirements for Guarding an Industrial Work Platform

Industrial Work Platform

Depending on their use, industrial work platforms are also known as mezzanines, pick modules, or rack supported platforms. Regardless of what they’re called, requirements for their construction fall under the International Building Code (IBC). The IBC references the Rack Manufacturers Institute’s (RMI) ANSI MH16.1: Specification for the Design, Testing and Utilization of Industrial Steel Storage Racks as the standard for the safe design and installation of steel storage racks.

“Specifically, section 12.3.5 in ANSI MH16.1 covers requirements for stairs, ladders, and guards used with industrial work platforms,” noted Chris Pahls, NexCaliber Structures Product Manager at Steel King Industries. In addition to RMI, the company is also a member of the Protective Guarding Manufacturers Association (ProGMA) and the Storage Manufacturers Association (SMA).

“That section of ANSI MH16.1 refers readers to ANSI MH32.1: Stairs, Ladders, and Open-Edge Guards for Use with Material Handling Structures. RMI and SMA worked together to produce this standard specific to the protection of any openings on an industrial work platform that a worker could fall through,” he continued. “That makes this standard also part of the IBC.”

Guarding the Perimeter of an Elevated Platform

According to MH32.1, elevated surfaces that are more than 30 inches above an adjacent level must have vertical guarding at the unprotected edges.

Industrial Work Platform

“When protecting the perimeter of an industrial work platform where personnel work, the code requires a guardrail mounted to supporting posts. The top of the rail must measure at least 42 inches from the platform surface,” Pahls said. “The standard also calls for an additional guardrail positioned between the floor and the top rail. This intermediate rail must prohibit a sphere with a 21-inch diameter from passing through the guarding.”

Additionally, the bottom four inches of perimeter guarding must stop a 1.125-inch sphere from passing through. “Installing kick plates — also known as toe boards — prevents any loose items from sliding or rolling off the edge of the platform,” he explained. “This protects personnel below the edge of the industrial work platform from being struck by a falling object.”

For additional safety, the design of the top guardrail and posts must resist the force of a concentrated load of 200 pounds. The intermediate rail must safely support a concentrated load of 50 pounds.

Guarding for Industrial Work Platform Ladders, Stairways

Some owners of industrial work platforms extend perimeter guarding to significantly higher heights than 42 inches, Pahls added.

“In some facilities, the platform may have another level above it that is only accessible by a ladder. These might be a ship ladder, rung ladder, or alternating tread stairway,” he explained. Permanently fixed within the structure, these ladders feature steep pitch line slopes ranging from 50- to 90-degrees.

“If a ladder is located close to the edge of the platform, extending the perimeter guarding up higher than 42 inches in that area offers additional fall protection for personnel as they climb up or down,” continued Pahls.

There are also several safety requirements for each type of ladder outlined in MH32.1. These include details about each type of ladder’s design, as well as treads, rise, and handrail specifications.

“Additionally, fixed ladders used with industrial work platforms now must have an accessible guard such as a chain or gate. Spring loaded gates are preferable because they automatically close behind the user once they reach the top,” Pahls added. “Often, there isn’t a lot of floorspace at the top of the ladder. The gate prevents someone from accidentally stepping backwards and falling back down the ladder.”

Industrial Work Platform

MH32.1 also includes safety and design requirements for stairways used to access industrial work platforms. Unlike ladders, stairways have a less steep pitch line slope of 30- to 50-degrees. They also require a minimum clearance space at the entrance and exit of the stairway that equals the width of the treads.

“For example, a stairway with 3-foot-wide treads — which is the minimum required size — must have 3-foot-deep landings at the top and bottom,” he noted.

Understanding the Difference Between Handrails and Guardrails

There is often confusion surrounding the terms “guardrail” and “handrail.” However, the two refer to different things, said Pahls.

“Guardrails provide fall protection at the sides of a stairway and around the perimeter of the industrial work platform,” he explained. “Handrails are a required component on stairways. They provide additional stability to persons ascending or descending from one level to another.”

Pahls recommended following the guardrail and handrail design requirements outlined in MH32.1, section 4.2 to ensure proper positioning and placement.

Learn More About Safeguarding Personnel on an Industrial Work Platform

Want more information about industrial work platform safety? Download a copy of the RMI/SMA ANSI MH32.1: Stairs, Ladders, and Open-Edge Guards for Use with Material Handling Structures standard.